Evolution of the News - Legacy to Social Media

Our children are the architects of our future. They are the ones who will inherit the world we shape today and make the decisions that will determine its trajectory. This realization underscores the paramount importance of educating and empowering our youth, instilling in them the values that will guide them as they become the leaders of tomorrow. We are already seeing the power of today’s youth, with their unwavering determination for positive change, seen in movements like #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and environmental advocacy. 

Social media, a topic that frequently graces the minds of communications professionals, plays a crucial role in amplifying these advocacy movements. It provides a platform for marginalized voices, fostering a sense of community and solidarity among those fighting for common causes. However, its evolution from a platform for sharing personal updates between friends to a powerful tool for news consumption and social engagement poses risks. 

Fake News On Social Media

A study published by Social Network Analysis and Mining on February 9, 2023, shows that social media outperformed television as the major news source for young people of the UK and the USA. However, amid this shift, a substantial challenge emerges – the rampant spread of misinformation poses a critical issue for social media platforms. Further investigation into the circulation of online news on Twitter within the same study discloses an alarming fact: false information is spread at a staggering six times the speed of accurate content. This double-edged nature of social media as a news source raises concerns about the swift circulation of misleading information, warranting a closer examination of its impact on public discourse and trust in information.

In a study released by NewsGuard in September 2022, a closer look at online information on TikTok revealed concerning findings. Analyzing 540 TikTok results, the study identified that 19.4% of videos—150 in total—contained misleading information. Notably, TikTok’s search engine was implicated in consistently delivering health misinformation to millions of young users, with some claims posing potential dangers to their well-being.

Adding to these concerns, insights from the same study published by Social Network Analysis and Mining further emphasizes the challenges of navigating the digital information landscape. The research disclosed that a whopping 70% of users were unable to distinguish between real and fake news. This alarming percentage is attributed primarily to the novelty associated with misleading information, emphasizing the pressing need for enhanced media literacy and critical evaluation skills in the face of an increasingly complex online environment.


Research shows 70% of users couldn't distinguish between real and fake news

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Monetary Incentive for News Coverage 
Seizing the opportunity presented by social media platforms, content creators are capitalizing on the prospect of significant monetary growth through their engagement with news coverage. This trend is exemplified by individuals like Johnny Harris, a YouTube journalist with over 4 million followers. Harris delves into global news, geopolitical conflicts, and conducts in-depth investigations on various subjects, ranging from the Mormon Church to the flat-earther movement. Based on Social Blade, an American social media analytics website, it is estimated that Harris makes over $900,000 annually in advertising revenue alone.

This shift in financial dynamics is not without repercussions for traditional news outlets. Renowned news sources are experiencing a reduction in traffic caused by an uptick of traffic on social media platforms, leading to a redirection of advertising funds. Significant marketing budgets, once allocated to established news outlets, are now finding their way into the hands of these innovative content creators. The evolving communications landscape signals a transformative era where the influence and financial power are gradually shifting from traditional news to the dynamic realm of social media.

Impact on Legacy Media

Since the rise of news consumption on social media, legacy media publications have seen an overall decline in traffic.  An online survey conducted by Reuters Institute, surveyed roughly 94,000 people in 46 nations, concluded that it seems to be the end for print and broadcast media – dooming legacy media as a whole.  As Gen-Zers are aging, it is unlikely that their consumption of news will change. 

There are further concerns – a higher percentage of young adults, 24 and younger, have a distrust of legacy outlets. Social media has not only taken over legacy media’s audience, it undermines the authority of these traditional news organizations and erodes support for newsrooms that serve as a fundamental source of original reporting.

In this digital era, the pursuit of attention has driven legacy media to adopt a “don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness” strategy, as exemplified by instances such as those seen in the BBC and CNN with their occasionally sensational headlines. This clickbait-led approach is arguably inspired by social media tactics –  the use of bombastic language correlates directly with higher viewership, subscription, shares, and engagement. Digital newspapers are indeed able to see in real time which stories are most popular, drive the most advertising potential and draw in the most footfall. Bombastic undoubtedly draws that much needed attention to add something extra to the rate-card. 

This is nothing new. Since their inception, tabloids, such as The Sun or National Enquirer, have often used explosive language or silly puns to hook the audience and sell papers. There is, however, a certain expectation of other so-called respected news outlets to work with a level of journalistic integrity, since they will be held accountable for misinformation – at least they are supposed to.

The accuracy of media outlets is now competing with the rapid pace of social media news “coverage”, where events quickly unfold, and publication occurs almost instantaneously, potentially lacking thorough verification. This competition further contributes to the prevalent distrust in legacy news. Once a headline or story is published, even if retractions follow, people tend to stick to the original story, making it harder to distinguish between fake news and the truth. 

The Media Revolution 

In the midst of the shift that is reshaping journalism, the current disruption appears not only inevitable but necessary for the industry to align with technological advancements and cater to the preferences of a growing audience. The rise of content creators on social media platforms has catalyzed this transformation, prompting a reevaluation of traditional news outlets’ roles in an era dominated by digital influencers. 

This transformation will require a renewed commitment to fact-checking, unbiased reporting, and fostering a culture of media literacy among the public. Only then can the media regain its position as a trusted source of information and fulfill its essential role in a democratic society. 

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